The head and the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammad Eslami (center) and Behrouz Kamalvandi (left), speak at a gathering of the heads of Iranian diplomatic missions held at the Foreign Ministry in Tehran in May 2023.

Iran Denies Building New Underground Nuclear Facility

Wednesday, 05/24/2023

Despite clear evidence, the head of Iran’s nuclear program has rejected that the regime is building a deep underground nuclear facility.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Mohammad Eslami insisted that the government would cooperate with international inspectors on any “new activities.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is working under the IAEA safeguards, and whenever it wants to start new activities, it will coordinate with the IAEA, and act accordingly,” Eslami said, referring to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He made the remarks following an Associated Press report that showed the regime is building a deep underground nuclear facility near the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, close to the Natanz nuclear site, with experts claiming development “is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites."

Describing the new claims as “bogus” and “a psychological operation” originated by Israel, Eslami added that whenever Israel finds itself stuck in difficult situations in the region, it “intensifies these psychological operations more and more." He did not elaborate on what he meant by a difficult situation.

The report analyzed expert opinions as well as satellite imagery from Planet Labs PBC to prove Iran’s activities near the Natanz nuclear site, which has come under repeated sabotage attacks amid Tehran’s standoff with the West over its atomic program. According to experts, photographs of the piles of dirt from the excavations suggest the new tunnels will be between 80 meters (260 feet) and 100 meters (328 feet) deep.

Satellite view of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility

The report sparked wider conversation across the Middle East about the construction, with Israel’s national security adviser saying Tuesday the site would not be immune from attack even if its depth put it out of range of American airstrikes. Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, chief of Israel's armed forces raised the prospect of "action" against Iran, warning that "Iran has advanced with uranium enrichment further than ever before ... There are negative developments on the horizon that could bring about (military) action.”

The US Air Force released rare images of the weapon, the GBU-57, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” designed to destroy weapons of mass destruction located in well protected facilities. However, it immediately took the photos down because they revealed sensitive details about the weapon’s composition and punch.

Natanz, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Tehran, has been a point of international concern since its existence became known two decades ago. This is not the first time reports surface about Iran building a vast tunnel network near Natanz, purportedly able to withstand cyberattacks and bunker-penetrating bombs.

The Islamic Republic claims the new construction will replace an above-ground centrifuge manufacturing center at Natanz struck by an explosion and fire in July 2020.

Last year, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, reacted to a report by the New York Times revealing underground work, claiming Iran had notified the UN nuclear agency of its plan to relocate the activities of the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) complex in Karaj to the city of Natanz.

He claimed the move aimed to prevent the recurrence of attacks, referring to a recent drone attack at the TESA complex near Karaj which manufactures parts for centrifuges.

Over the years, a series of attacks has seemed to slow Iran’s nuclear activities. In 2010, the Natanz uranium enrichment facility suffered serious damage following a major cyber-attack involving the Stuxnet virus. Three years later, the Fordow enrichment site was rocked by an explosion. More recently, in July 2020, a centrifuge assembly facility was hit by an explosion and in April 2021 an explosion at the enrichment plant caused a power outage that reportedly damaged thousands of centrifuges.

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